Interviewee: Edith MacNeil Holmes, “Nurse Mac”
Interviewer: Jane Abernathy Plyler
Dates: December 6 and December ? [sic], 1979
Location: Weldon, NC
Edith Mac Neil Holmes was born in 1905 and grew up in Clarkton, North Carolina. She graduated from the St. Agnes Hospital School of Nursing in Raleigh, NC in 1923. She worked at a doctorâs office before joining the Halifax County Health Department in 1924. She began working in midwife supervision the following year and began training all 75 midwives in her county. She married briefly, divorced, and served as a role model and mother figure to several young people in her community. She retired in 1964.
In this interview, Holmes discusses her childhood, family background, and education, and work as a public health nurse. Holmes was black, and a recurring theme in the interview is the role of her own race in connecting with African-American, Native American, and mixed-race patients. She faced challenges from discrimination and segregation. Holmes gave vaccinations, sometimes traveling to farms during the lunch hour to administer them to workers who lacked the time to visit her clinic. She dealt with tuberculosis and tuberculin testing as well as venereal disease treatments and midwife supervision. This task included educating the midwives and mothers about maternity health. Holmes talks about the role of poverty in public health issues and describes her efforts to secure resources for her patients. She discusses folk medicine and lay medical practitioners. Holmes covers the process of school visits and school screening. She discusses the way of life of black tenant farmers in the 1920s and 1930s, as well as that of the African-American community in general.